Book Of The Month: Immortal Life In Stanley Bing's prophetic new novel, age is just a number.
Posted on Dec 1, 2017 06:00am

Imagine a world where food comes out of 3-D printers, our brains connect to the cloud, and consciousness can move from one being to another to cheat death. This is the not-so-distant future that humorist and business expert Stanley Bing portrays in Immortal Life, his latest work of fiction.

Funny, terrifying, and quite possibly prescient, the book tells the story of Arthur, a ruthless 127-year-old executive set on inhabiting the body of Gene, a young man created expressly for him. But Gene has other plans. Here, Bing, the longtime Fortune columnist and author of What Would Machiavelli Do? and Crazy Bosses, shares how technology is shaping our today and tomorrow.

People are afraid the machines will take over, from driverless cars to drone deliveries. Is the paranoia justified?

Stanley Bing: As always, a little bit of paranoia is justified. But artificial intelligence will be every bit as limited and stupid as actual human intelligence. I'm reminded of the debate in the 1950s about nuclear power: It's safe, it's clean, it's the future! The problem is that Homer Simpson is working at the power plant. As long as humans are involved in science and development, there's fallibility.

In this digital era, have we truly regressed into a "state of mindless enslavement," a phrase you use in your book?

Bing: Immortal Life is about humanity. Now, you go to a Starbucks and everyone is looking at a phone. Soon, we will be consulting hardware inside our heads. No one will be talking; they will be connecting. In the book, there are some genetic implications to this. With evolution, things that are not used wither and go away. I think the part of the brain given over to independent thought will wither, and the part of the brain dedicated to communicating with others will grow. We have a possibility of a hive future.

In the book, I suggest a green path. There will be plenty of people who say "get this out of my head." They will go to places where the cloud can't touch them.

We still haven't found a solution to death.

Bing: I do think there are people working on the transfer of consciousness. If not living forever, then living a lot longer. The solution will be available to rich people.

How does our era compare to the Industrial Revolution?

Bing: During the Industrial Revolution, a lot of what people enjoyed and recognized about being human was wiped out. You don't want to bemoan the past, but there was a beautiful, slower-moving time in history that was quashed.

This digital revolution is also redefining what it means to be human. We are too close to it, but from my observation, it's not much of an improvement.

What are the differences between the business world of today and 10 years ago, 20 years ago?

Bing: A lot has changed, a lot hasn't. We have different working environments, and it's less bureaucratic. More consolidation. But business is still essentially an authoritarian environment. Everybody is still afraid of the guy in the corner office.

By Sam Jenkins | Originally published in Watch! Magazine, November-December 2017.

Photo Credit: Guido Mieth/Getty Images.